Ward Serrill

Best Films of 2018

1. LEAVE NO TRACE - Debra Granick articulates a delicate and clear touch with human relationships here. My most moving film of the year. It features young newcomer Thomasin McKenzie as a teenage girl living on the fringes of society (in this case the lovely wooded lands of Oregon), with her father, a vet struggling with PTSD.

2. GREEN BOOK – Director Peter Farrelly served up the buddy movie of the year and a wonderful platform for the exquisite acting of Viggo Mortenson and Mahershala Ali. Every detail of the film (set design, costumes, hair, cinematography…) is expressed in an artistic continuum - a sumptuous visual feast.

3. RBG - A five foot four inch woman who stood up to a male dominated culture and changed the playing field for American women - Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The film is clever, profound and timely, both her personal story as well as her supreme court record of using the constitution to demand equal rights for women.

4. BlacKkKlannsman - Spike Lee’s adaptation of the true story of John Stallworth, the first African American on the Colorado Springs Police force and the man who infiltrated the KKK. I have never felt such silence as the silence I felt in a theater at the end of this movie.

5. ROMA - Alphonso Cuaron’s beauty of a film follows the humble story of a maid, Cleo, played by Yalitza Aparicio, in a middle class Mexican family in the 1970’s. Ultimately it is a story of family, not of blood family...but true family, the one Cleo is forced by circumstances to share her life with.

6. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? - Mr. Rogers was a gentle visionary who let kids know they were loved exactly as they are. He talked to them about peace and anger and loss and death and mostly about love. This film is a testimony to goodness and kindness and how it can radiate from every one of us.

7. WILD WILD COUNTRY - A Netflix documentary series about the controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) and his community of followers in the Rajneeshpuram community located in Wasco County, Oregon. This chronicles the true story of how a Rolls-Royce driving Indian guru moved his alleged sex cult to central Oregon in the 1980s to form a spiritually enlightened city but ended up conducting the largest bioterror attack on U.S. soil. Voter fraud, bombings, orgies, and attempted assassinations all factor into one of the most gripping stories you’ll see this year.

8. ISLE OF DOGS - Some filmmakers are masters of story and some rare ones such as Wes Anderson are also masters of Imagination. His latest is a stop motion puppet animation delight starring dogs and voiced by top shelf voice actors, Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Ed Norton, Bill Murray and even Yoko Ono.

9. FREE SOLO - Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi are the best mountain filmmakers out there. This is the story of the greatest athletic achievement in the history of mankind (no lie). It follows Alex Honnold’s free climb of El Cap, in Yosemite; a wall of granite nearly a mile straight up. It will make yer palms sweat…

10. A STAR IS BORN - I was unable to tear my attention away from Lady Gaga. She is riveting and vulnerable. Her singing is astonishing. Made me forget Barbara Streisand.

11. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – The Coen Brothers serve up six short brilliant stories of the old west, full of dark humor, great acting and surprise endings. My favorite was one featuring Tom Waits and a mule…

12. MOUNTAIN - A film that is experiential and beautiful. A former high altitude mountain cinematographer, Jennifer Peedom’s love letter to the archetypal symbol, spiritual power and physical reality of mountains. Narrated by Willem Dafoe.

13. FAHRENHEIT 11/9 - This is one of Michael Moore’s best. The only trouble with Michael Moore is people have a big attitude about him and miss out on seeing his movies for what they are. In short: Collectively, his films represent the most incisive and entertaining chronicles of America in the last 30 years.

14. THE DEATH OF STALIN - Centering on the gang of colossally brilliant and sick men at the helm of the Soviet Union after Stalin keeled over. Dark and hilarious. Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor and Simon Beale are as good together as the Monty Python boys.

15. BLAZE - Directed by Ethan Hawke, this is a heartbreaking beauty of a film, maybe the best told love story of the year. It’s raw and sweet and bright-dark, like a row of christmas lights up a set of stairs on a rainy night.

16. BIG SONIA - You ever seen a 94-year-old woman walk into a prison and bring hardened criminals to tears and inspire them to change their lives? That is only one piece of the utterly tender and beautiful story of Sonia Warshawski, who at four foot eleven, is Big Sonia.

17. RAM DAS: GOING HOME - The movie I want to see just before I die. Not coincidentally, this is Ram Das’s message to the world as he prepares to leave this planet.

18. WORLDS OF URSULA LEGUIN - This is a film for anyone who has been touched by Ms. LeGuin’s work. The best parts are the long screen time to bring some of her great stories to life, especially the Wizard of Earthsea series.

19. THE RIDER - A hard-hitting drama made more effective through writer-director Chloé Zhao's use of untrained actors to tell the movie's fact-based and heartbreaking tale (phew-tough to watch at times!) of a rodeo star on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Cinematogrpahy is wonderful.

20. SADIE – Megan Griffiths dark gem of a film. It rises from the underbelly of the Pacific Northwest, set in a trailer park where teenage Sadie, captivatingly intense, does her best to control a world full of contradictions and emotional complications.

Haven’t seen: Wife The Favourite

2017 films I didn’t recommend last year but now would. "Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey" and "Jim and Andy: the Great Beyond"

BEST FILMS of 2017 

WASE's Favorite Films of 2017. Okay here we go. I start with a caveat though. Because I live in a little town with the best little theater on the West Coast (The Rose Theater) it takes longer for new releases to get here. So I have yet to see The Disaster Artist, The Post or the Shape of Water all of which I expect might have made this list. But here is what I did see. As a documentary fellow, there is perhaps more of those listed than in normal "best of lists." This ain't a bests list anyways, it's my favorite's list.

1)(Tied for first): 3 BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI. If not for the next film on the list I would say this is the best written and acted film of the year. Astonishing how we laughed at the darkest moments in this. Francis McDormand has never been better. Woody Harrelson too was a gem.

1) (Tied for First): LADYBIRD. Greta Gerwig's directorial debut is ridiculously good, exceptional writing, acting, etc...

1) (Tied for First): THE FLORIDA PROJECT. Sean Baker's absolutely unique follow-up to Tangerine is a look inside a subculture of America, a budget hotel in the shadow of DisneyWorld Florida. Amazing.

1) (Tied for First): FACES PLACES. 89 year old french filmmaker Agnes Varda teams up with photographer and Muralist JR in a cross france escapade to photograph and create huge murlals of ordinary people. an incredible journey and essay on the meaning of art and life.

2) WIND RIVER. Taylor Sheridan's follow-up of the great crime thriller of 2016, Hell or High Water. Wind River continues in the crime saga vein, a murder on an Indian Reservation. Like the Florida Project you get drawn into a special world you would otherwise not get a pass into.

3) DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME. One of the most original documentaries I have ever seen that remarkably goes to the Yukon to shine a light on the era of silent films.

4) KEDI. If you need to feel better, see this documentary on the street cats of Istanbul.

5) LOVING VINCENT. A completely original approach to the telling of the end of Vincent Van Gogh's lIfe. Belongs in the hall of fame for visual style, using 100 artists to hand paint each frame.

6) DUNKIRK. Christopher Nolan's epic retelling of the evacuation of Dunkirk is an astonishingly authentic look into the reality and heroism and selfishness and inhumanity and humanity of war. It will be hard to get out of your head and for good reason.

7) I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO. Using the recordings of James Baldwin, this belongs as a must see for anyone who wants to understand racism in America. A great documentary.

8) STEP. A wonderful documentary on a high school competitive step team in Baltimore. Full of heart!

9) BLADE RUNNER 2049. They pulled this off, in my opinion, every frame was a joy to take in from a design standpoint. I was sucked into the story.

10) PATTI CAKE$. How often do you get to see a fat white girl really kick it up as a rapper? A true original

11) BATTLE OF THE SEXES. The fictionalized drama between Bobbie Riggs and Billie Jean King.

12) ATOMIC BLOND. Okay laugh, but it was fun to see Charlize Theron kick ass in a political spy thriller. I cheat here but I would be completely remiss if I didn't add a series I saw on Netflix. If you are into great westerns don't miss GODLESS. A 7-part series that plays like a long feature film. Absolutely original characters, including a host of kick ass women with guns

Also check out Errol Morris's Netflix documentary WORMWOOD. Morris is the king.

Make your life better. Go to the movies. -WAS

ps. Hey I'll have a film out this fall. It's called: THE BOWMAKERS. Stay tuned.


BEST FILMS of 2016

Wassy’s top 18 movies of 2016 Okay, I know it’s a bit relative in terms of time, but it took me a bit to see the major films I needed to see from 2016 and I knew I couldn’t compile my list without first seeing Lion, which I did this weekend. And now I understand why I waited. For now I have two #1 films of the year.

Caveat: I did not see Fences and believe it would have made this list, also the documentary Gleason, both on my to see list.

Ps. I dedicate this to the best little theater on the West Coast, the Rose, where I saw most of these.

1 (tied). Moonlight (Barry Jenkins) – Pure exquisite cinema poetics, every shot, compellingly deep. Emotionally true and devastating performances. Three duets of actors playing two boys/men in three different phases of life. There are moments in here so lyrical (the swimming scene) and so full of sweetness that I will never forget them. Maharshila Ali deserved his Oscar. (Moonlight was my #1 way before the Oscars decided the same.)

1 (tied) Lion (Garth Davis) – More tears poured from my face as I watched this than any other movie in years. The pure determination of human longing and primal connection to family. Lovingly shot and held, every moment true as if I were a little boy lost in Calcutta and no way to get home. The love of son and mother, the power of return. Yes Dev Patel deserved his Oscar nomination, so did another stupendously brilliant subtle performance by Nicole Kidman. Whew!

2. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie) – Really one of the great road movies of all times set in bleak west Texas riding shotgun with two brothers robbing banks. Chris Pine and Ben Foster as the brothers showed that blood is thicker than water.

3. The Salesman – Winner of the best foreign Film Oscar. Asghar Farhadi ‘s second Oscar ( his first was for Separation) from Iran. Such a potent underscored Shakespearean drama, with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman as a backdrop – this film is so emotionally sincere and devastating. I couldn’t speak for a half hour afterwards.

4. Hunt for the WilderPeople (Taiki Waititi) – Funniest, quirkiest film of the year. Brought to you by director of the best vampire comedy film ever: What we do in the Shadows. This is cult classic material. I think New Zealand humor may be the best humor in the world. The entire film takes the piss out of everyone in it.

5. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)- A lot of folks passed on this cuz it was a sci-fi and in so doing missed a gem. The most powerful message film of the year with a morale that is the medicine for our times: Use your Gifts. That and only that will save us.

6. Beatles 8 Days a Week. A true revelation. Directed by Ron Howard. This is one of the great achievements in technology. Because, yes here was footage and photographs of the most famous band of all times you’ve never seen before. The emphasis of the film was smartly on the touring years of the Beatles. But what made my spirit soar was the audio. They had somehow salvaged the ORIGINAL sound of the performances - so I am saying that the performances you hear in the film in the Cavern Club in 1961 or in Shea Stadium in 1965 was the audio board sound. Not what came thorough the tinny speakers, no one could hear who was there. It was the sound even the Beatles themselves couldn’t hear because of the screaming. In other words no one has ever before heard these performances. I have a lot to say about this film and wrote an entire essay on it a few months ago…so for now on to #7

7. La La Land (Kenneth Lonergan) - Nothing more needs to be said about it. It deserves the credit it got. The opening number (filmed in one continuous take) is extraordinary. A film that left me dreamy and romanticized all night.

8. Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross) - This portrait of a feral family (filmed in Washington State) and its expedition to the city for the first time to attend the mother’s funeral is enlightening and delightful. It said just about everything I’ve always wanted to say to my culture, its mesmerization with materialism and its plummet into somnolent disease. This family, helmed by Viggo Mortenson brought me hope.

9. Life Animated (Roger Ross Williams) - Tough for me to say my favorite documentary of the year. They all kind of tied for first, but this story of an autistic man who begins to communicate to the world through Disney Cartoons is Amazing.

10 Amanda Knox. (Rob Buckhurst and Brain McGinn) - Netflix and everyone else is kicking out so many documentaries these days that it is easy to let a gem pass by. You at all curious about the Amanda Knox story? Watch this. You meet her face to face. You decide.

11. I am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) - Documentary using the words and presence of James Baldwin. Required viewing for every American.

12. The White Helmets (Joanna Natasegara and Orlando Von Einsiedel) - I included a short film, winner of Oscar for best short dos. This portrait of the truly heroic men who run first into bombed out buildings in Aleppo to save any survivors should put anyone to shame who believes in war and us as a country who sit by as civilians in Aleppo are bombed.

13. Neruda – Man in a two week period in December, Pablo Larrain releases Jackie and Neruda, two truly unique films stylistically. Neruda is like watching the pages of an amazing novel, sometimes dipping into magic surrealism play out on the screen.

14. Jackie (Pablo Larrain) – The most gripping acting performance I’ve seen in ten years, Natalie Portman as Jackie, a film about the true unraveling that grief demands of us.

15. 13th (Ava Duvernay) - Want to know how slavery led directly to the mass incarceration of black people we have today? Want to see the systematized enslavement of people through our criminal justice system, in a country with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners? I’m going to repeat that: The United States has 5% of the world’s population. 25% of all the people behind bars in the world are in our prisons. I am going to repeat that…

16. 20th Century Women (Mike Mills) – Annette Benning is incredible and this was the best ensemble acting job of the year.

17. Tony Robbins (Joe Berlinger) – Okay laugh. But settle down in front of Netflix and give it a watch. There was no one more jaded against this guy as me and director Joe Berlinger…but the camera don’t lie. He’s the real deal. He’s truly reaching inside and connecting with divinely seeded powerful gifts that are truly helping folks heal and actualize.